Vol 7

Corelli’s Courante

Arcangelo Corelli’s Courante in Suzuki Volume 7 comes from his Concerto Grosso No. 6. Today a concerto is known as a piece of music in three movements, usually played by one solo instrument and orchestra, but why grosso?

Photo by Larisa Birta

Photo by Larisa Birta

Grosso means big in Italian, and concerto grosso refers to a concerto with a group of soloists plus orchestra – a kind of big concerto. Corelli was the first major composer to use the term and other composers, such as Geminiani, Locatelli, Torelli, Bach and especially Handel, subsequently took up the form. Finally it was superseded by the solo concerto and sinfonia concertante.

Concerti grossi (plural) from the Baroque era (approx. 1600  to 1750) are generally pleasant harmonious pieces, often without prominent solo lines, a reason perhaps why they were overtaken by the solo concerto.

Corelli’s Op. 6, for two violins and cello, with stronger melodies and themes, has the balance about right, and it remains a popular concert piece.


When violin students first encounter trills in Volume 2, the big issue is finger speed. In the effort go faster, however, the upper trilling finger may hammer down too strongly and the lower finger may press down on the fingerboard with too much force. Paradoxically, it has the effect of restricting speed. It’s better to relax the left hand, focus on clarity and listen for accurate pitch in the upper note.

What is the musical purpose of trills? Are they simply ornamental? One way to find out is to play the piece omitting the trills. If you know the piece well enough, it sounds like part of the melody is missing, though not as much as when you leave out a note or two.

Trills in Baroque music are usually added to produce harmonic suspensions, preparing for and leading into cadences. They may begin on or above the principal note and unless there are specific signs in the score, can be played at the performer’s discretion.

There’s some trill exercises on previous posts here at Teach Suzuki Violin. Here’s the links: Read More →

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Courante from Cello Suite No.1 in G Major by J.S. Bach

Cellists will instantly recognise this famous Courante from Cello Suite No.1 in G Major by J.S. Bach, BWV 1007, a natural inclusion by Suzuki in Volume 7 to follow the Gigue from the same cello suite. A delightfully quick dance, it has a memorable melody of attractive leaps and runs set against the deep resonances of bass notes, many of them on lower open strings.

Mischa Maisky

Mischa Maisky

As you’ll see below in the YouTube performances, this attractive piece has been arranged for several other instruments. Because it sounds so good and right on the cello, and despite what it teaches us musically, I can’t help feeling it almost seems a folly to play the Courante transposed for the violin. It makes us want to learn the cello!

Study Points

The falling staccato notes require cello-like resonance, which involves taking care with both the attack and the end of each bow stroke. Aim for a clean attack without extraneous string noise and  areverberant ending. Practise the finish of the stroke by lifting the bow off the string to listen to the ringing sound. Now try to achieve equal resonance gently leaving the bow on the string.

Even beats, even notes

Due to the surging melodic structure of the Courante, some students tend to rush the semiquavers (sixteenth notes) in relation to the quavers (eighth notes). Practise with a metronome to even out the beat before letting go of the reins for the right balance of time flexibility.


When you listen to Maisky, Rostropovich, Casals and Carr play the Courante, you’ll soon realise that playing at the correct tempo is a vital part of the musical expression. Often it is played too slowly on the violin, and with excessively long bows for the staccato notes.

Quick Tech Tips

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Gigue in D Major by Bach

We’re in unaccompanied violin territory this week with the Gigue in D Major by Bach from Suzuki Violin Volume 7. This bright little dance was composed for cello in Suite No. 1 in G major, BWV 1007, part of the monumental works for solo cello Bach wrote around the time of  the great violin solo sonatas.

Gigue in D Major by Bach

The Gigue transcribes well from the cello-friendly key of G Major to the violin’s equally amiable D, exploiting the deep resonances of open strings. As expected, this effect is much stronger when played on the cello, and violinists have to work hard to create a corresponding sense of tone colour. Is it possible? Listen to some of the magic performances by cellists Mischa Maisky and Mstislav Rostropovich – and decide for yourself.

An interesting feature of this piece is Bach’s use of repeated notes with slurs before and onto the beat, giving these parts of the melody a lilting rhythmic quality within the flow of quavers. Performers usually play these two notes in the same bow, distinctly separated and a little more weight on the beat note, creating surging shapes and runs within the stream of notes.

A Few Study Points


The Gigue is an excellent opportunity to study the direct relationship between bow control, note connections and tone quality. For example, the right amount of separation between notes marked staccato (dot or dash) and the repeated notes with slurs depends on their role in the melodic line and phrase.

In measure 3 – and in similar patterns later in the piece – stop the bow before playing the staccato notes.


Chords and Trill

Practise the chords without the trill at first, taking care not to rush and to ensure each lasts for the correct duration. Play with a smooth even sound – as if tuning up. Read More →

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Allegro by Corelli – velocity with good taste

The final piece in Suzuki Volume 7 is Allegro by Corelli, from his Violin Sonata Op. 5, No. 1 in D Major. Allegro is very likeable, tasteful music – and it’s good for left hand fingering technique, a happy combination of benefits, especially since it’s not overly difficult for players at this level.

Painting by Orazio Gentileschi 1612

Painting by Orazio Gentileschi 1612

If we didn’t know from the historical records of Corelli’s fame as a performer, we’d see from his music that he was a violinist and composer who both marked and originated significant advances in violin playing.

To our ears his music sounds sweet, sonorous and symmetrical, quite similar to the music of his more famous successor, Antonio Vivaldi, yet more than anyone it was Arcangelo Corelli (what a great name!) who prepared the way for the great flowering of Italian baroque string music, spreading into Europe and beyond, even influencing the immortal works of J.S. Bach.

The Main Points

Left hand – 3rd and 4th fingers

Remember how hard it was to practise 4th finger trills? There’s no trills in Allegro, but it’s a great workout for fingers 3 and 4 in preparation for those tricky 4th finger trills coming up in Veracini’s Sonata in E Minor, Allegro con Fuoco in Volume 8.

In contrast to, Allegro by Fiocco in Volume 6 for example, Corelli’s Allegro is not excessively fast, yet should be played with real zip and vigour to reveal its true colours. Practise slow then practise quick, play fast.

Changing finger patterns while shifting

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Concerto in A Minor, Bach – 3rd Movement (Part 3) The Way Home

Here we are at Part 3 of the Concerto in A Minor, Bach – 3rd Movement. On the way home at last!


By now most of the hard work is done, except for the bariolage in measures 105 – 116. Before we get to it, there’s one small point to watch out for – a clever little double stop where the main theme crosses back over into the solo melody in measure 94.

Don’t stop at the Double Stop

Bach intended this double stop to seamlessly transition to the solo. It’s an abrupt turn and can be a bit of a jolt, but don’t worry, he also wanted to make it obvious that the direction has changed. This means that it needs to be both smooth and prominent.

To achieve the right balance, work on each of these qualities separately. Create a circular practice loop of measures 93 and 94, practise first without the upper note, C and aim for an unbroken line from D to A (4th finger). Then give the A some weight, to mark the beginning of the solo melody. Finally, add in the C, which is where we say goodbye to the the tutti theme.


The Bariolage

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Concerto in A Minor, Bach – 3rd Movement (Part 2)

Harmony, melody, rhythm, volume and speed: the musical elements musicians must draw together into a seamless whole. Just how fast, how loud, what shape, which colours and what kind of connections between notes depends on the point of view of the performer.


To illustrate this, I’d like you to listen to the audio below. I’ve put together the first 7 or 8 bars of the 3rd movement played by 10 different violinists and orchestras. Listening to them shows the extraordinarily unique way each player and orchestra realizes the same music. Studying and performing a work, we all have freedom to choose what makes sense to us and how we want to communicate the music to the audience.

First, choose the one you like best and tell us why in the comments for this post or email me at john@teachsuzukiviolin.com. To make a comment, click on ADD REPLY under the post title, then Have your say… will appear at the bottom of the post with the comments box. Thanks!

Second, see if you can guess the correct order of the violinists. I’ll reveal it in the next post. Here’s the list in random order:

Julia Fischer
Itzhak Perlman
Issac Stern
Susan Lautenbacher
Hilary Hahn
Andrew Manze
Simon Standage
Koji Toyoda
Henryk Szeryng
Takako Nishizaki


Now let’s get back to Concerto in A Minor, Bach – 3rd Movement Read More →

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Concerto in A Minor, Bach – 3rd movement (Part 1)

For the 3rd movement of the Concerto in A Minor, Bach assigned the tempo Allegro assai (very fast) and yet there are significant variations in the way this tempo is interpreted by violinists and orchestras around the world, from what feels like a meandering Allegretto, right up to a breathless Presto, each creating quite different qualities of energy and rhythm.

Apart from the questions about a suitable speed, rhythm and beat are the key elements that makes this movement move – and dance, so much so that occasionally some violinists do literally dance as they play it on stage. See what British violinist Hilary Hahn does in the above YouTube video and how the slurs are arranged to enhance the bowing of the jig-like rhythm in this spirited performance.

Whether they are slurred as in Hilary’s performance or not, playing the triplet rhythms in the opening theme presents few problems. It becomes more challenging to maintain and project the same rhythmic impulse in the solo sections, with their exciting semiquaver runs, especially in measures 31 to 44 of the first solo.

The Main Study Points (Page 1)

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Violin Concerto in A Minor by J.S. Bach BWV 1041, 2nd movement

Here we are at the Violin Concerto in A Minor by J.S. Bach BWV 1041, 2nd movement. When I hear this piece, it reminds me of the first time I discovered Bach’s music. It was a Brandenburg Concerto and I was perhaps three years old, transfixed by the happy ocean of sound that was somehow both familiar and new.

Photo by Griffin Keller

Photo by Griffin Keller

Years later in the the teaching studio, I see that same love and attraction to Bach’s music in the faces of very young students, the essence of kindness.

The Main Points

In the solo violin part of the A Minor Concerto 2nd movement, a distinctive feature becomes apparent, somewhat unusual for Bach: breathing spaces of a measure or two in between the phrases. Many of Bach’s compositions have a non-stop quality, carrying you upwards and onwards with intertwined harmonies and counterpoint, overlapping phrases, leaps into other registers and excursions into surprising places. In this movement, however, we sometimes get the chance to stand still and contemplate the scenery…

Where’s the Beat?

Study Tip: Divide the beats into quavers (8th notes) – at least until the piece is memorised. Read More →

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Violin Concerto in A Minor by J.S. Bach BWV 1041- Part 3 (final)

This post is the 3rd and final part of the Violin Concerto in A Minor by J.S. Bach BWV 1041, 1st movement.


As soon as I write this, I think: no music is really finished and final. Bach won’t be adding to any of his scores, yet his music didn’t end with his departure. Just as a script is not the play, the score is not the music . Each time you perform a piece, you start anew, with the potential to discover new insights, meanings and ways of expressing the music inside the score.

Whenever someone asks me how musicians (especially classical musicians) can bear to play the same piece of music over and over, I think of the extraordinary concerts of the Tchaikovsky concerto I’ve experienced, by a dozen or so particular musicians – each so different and unique. When composers leave us, their music lives on in musicians’ souls.

Ok, before this sounds too much like pontificating, let’s look at the main study points on page 3. You’ll be happy to know that most of the hard work has been done in pages 1 and 2.

The Long and Ascending Road

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Violin Concerto in A Minor by J.S. Bach – Part 2

This post continues our look at the main study points of the Violin Concerto in A Minor by J.S. Bach, which I described previously as the iconic concerto in the Suzuki violin repertoire, the piece that elevates you into the world of Mozart concertos and more.


Of course to reap the benefits, students need to put in a lot of hard work learning to play this music. The rewards  are plentiful: refinements to technique – better intonation in minor keys, shifting with pinpoint accuracy and enhanced bow division; musical developments – creating complex phrase shapes, subtle dynamics, experience playing with the orchestra; and increased memorising power.

The first objective of learning a new piece is to memorise the music accurately, so you can focus totally on the musical, expressive, interpretative qualities – and bring it up to the correct tempo.

The Key Study Points

1. The Violin Stands Alone

The first time a student rehearses the first movement with the piano accompaniment or orchestra, it can be a slightly unnerving experience to be left alone in measures 61 and 62, then in again in 65 and 66 as the accompaniment falls silent. Maintain an steady pulse and avoid the temptation to rush ahead!


2. Intonation

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